Activist challenges Zoo Atlanta gun ban

While Georgia is a very pro-gun state, there’s one part of the state that most definitely isn’t.

Atlanta may be our state capital and may play home to our sports teams, but the city is vastly different from much of the rest of the state. They tend not to like guns.

Because of that, there’s been an ongoing battle between gun rights activists and the city. After all, they tend to think preemption doesn’t really apply to them.

Now, one activist is taking aim at Zoo Atlanta and its gun ban.

An apparently new weapons ban at Zoo Atlanta is being challenged by the gun activist whose legal complaints may have ended the Music Midtown concert festival this year.

In an Oct. 20 blog post, Phillip Evans noted that the zoo appears to have recently changed the rules posted on its website, which once allowed legally permitted weapons but now bans “weapons of all types.”

Zoo spokesperson Rachel Davis confirmed the policy was updated on Sept. 1 and bans firearms and weapons of all types unless the carrier is a member of law enforcement. She said the firearms part of the ban is based on OCGA 16-11-127, the part of Georgia law that gives such ability to private property tenants.

Evans says a zoo official told him the policy change is based on the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s victory — over Evans himself — in a court battle on the right to ban guns in public parks. The core issue is that guns generally can be banned on private property but not on public property — a sometimes tricky situation to determine when a private organization operates in a public park.

However, Evans believes the zoo does not have the same ability to ban guns. The Garden won because it has a type of long-term lease called an “estate for years” that conveys various property rights. Another type of lease called a “usufruct” is usually shorter-term and/or does not convey such powers. Evans notes that the zoo is a private nonprofit — formally called Atlanta-Fulton County Zoo — but operates on City-owned land at 800 Cherokee Ave. in Grant Park and is supervised and significantly controlled by another public body, the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority (AFCRA).

That could mean the zoo has a usufruct arrangement, but that is not clear. Evans said the zoo did not respond to his question about the lease.

First, Evans didn’t shut down the Midtown Music Festival. Organizers who refused to adjust to their illegal gun ban forced that to happen.

Regardless, the crux of the issue is that Evans believes Zoo Atlanta lacks the legal authority to ban firearms on the premises. The fact that the zoo refused to answer questions about the lease itself is important because it seems to suggest–at least to me–that they know the lease type doesn’t permit them to do such a thing.

Of course, that’s just speculation on my part. There could be a number of other reasons why they didn’t answer the question posed by Evans.

Still, Atlanta has a history of ignoring preemption, and it’s not difficult to believe they finally learned a lesson and are starting to try and structure things so various places can ban firearms.

On the upside, Georgia is a state where a gun-free zone sign has no force of law on its own. If the staff knows you have a gun, they have actually to ask you to leave. If you refuse, then you’re guilty of criminal trespass, but they have to know you have a firearm on your person first.

Concealed is concealed.

Just sayin’.